Research Papers and Essays
Ronnie Oldham

Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael): Madonna and Child

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    Alongside several religious icons of various origins at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art one "Madonna and Child" is housed in a protective glass case, typically an indication of the value assigned to a particular work of art. Closer examination of the plaque mounted aside the painting reveals that it is a "Raphael," at least attributed to his studio. This painting is a copy of the Connestabile Madonna (fig. 1), which is in the Hermitage collection in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a typical Raphael composition and is representative of the many "Madonna and Child" pieces painted by Raphael during his years in Florence between 1504 and 1508. The original is round, rather than the square shape of this piece and the medium employed on both is tempra and oil on wood. The Mabee-Gerrer piece is surrounded by an ornate relief carved wooden frame. Whether it is made of a single piece of wood is not readily apparent.

    The background is not particularly realistic and there is somewhat less detail than in the original Connestible Madonna. Both characters seem real in a plastic sense, projected forward from the background with a limited three-dimensional effect, which gives the central figures added prominence. This appears to be another trait in common with da Vinci. Snow capped mountains on the horizon to the right of the Virgin add a unique, albeit puzzling, aspect to the painting. The lake and the tree on the left, although not essential to the reality of the overall work, completes Raphael’s trademark of unity through balance and symmetry.

    The painting is polychromatic. Colors are harmonious and a rich contrast is achieved between the reds and blues, however; the bow on the red blouse does not appear realistic. The original is much more detailed. Though Raphael’s clothing usually isn’t particularly shiny or shimmering, the differences between the two suggest that this part of the painting was either painted by a student or was done hurriedly.

    Like much of Raphael’s work, the lines are sharp and clearly separate the characters from the background. The virgin is centered on a vertical axis contrasting the horizontal lines of the horizon and the lake. Strong diagonal lines of the Virgin’s tipped head and the body of the Christ Child are at right angles with their gaze toward the book in her hand. The viewer’s eyes seem to be drawn to the book as well.

    The halos and standard blue clothing on the virgin allow easy identification of the figures as the holy Madonna and baby Jesus, otherwise they look like real people. The virgin’s face shows a tender, nurturing gaze looking down with firm, yet abstracted sweetness. The expression of the "Christ Child" is intently focused on the book and his face depicts a sense of satisfied curiosity. The intensity of his concentration on the book almost makes it seem as if he is reading attentively. The elements of individual character portrayed in each of the faces is reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci and most probably reflect di Vinci’s influence on Raphael during his Florentine period.

    The book itself, though the primary distinguishing factor in the painting, was apparently added to the original at a later date. When the original Connestabile Madonna was transferred from wood to canvas, it was discovered that the Virgin’s hand originally contained a pomegranate (Kren). Personally, I feel a book makes much more interesting painting than a pomegranate would.


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Revised: April 01, 2011.

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